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Walk the city

Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote for Cape Town Live.

Take the traditional view that Cape Town is a society for drivers, and you will miss out on a great deal. Aside from being healthy and environmentally sound, walking is the best way to get to know a city. Avid pedestrians recognise that there’s more than first meets the eye. They are clued into a metropolis of alleyways, cobbled streets and diverse architecture. Car people can keep the bland highways.

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Cape Malay hot-spots

Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote for Cape Town Live.

Brought to the Cape by Southeast Asian slaves in the seventeenth century, Cape Malay cuisine has evolved to become a unique fusion of Asian and European flavours, brought to life by local African ingredients. As such, authenticity is never hard to come by in the mother city.

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Restaurant review: Beleza – go there.

Here’s an excerpt from a restaurant review I wrote for Cape Town Live.

Though the phrase “home away from home” has become hackneyed, it’s pretty spot-on when used in reference to my favourite haunt. In fact, it would probably be more accurate for me to say, “My flat is my home away from Beleza.”

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Athlone towers bite the dust

Now you see ’em, now you don’t. Yup, if you blinked you’d have missed it, and if, like me, you thought Cape Town is always late, you’d have been wrong. The twin towers of Athlone fell in just eight seconds – and three and a half minutes ahead of schedule. How inappropriate for a city known disparagingly as “Slaapstad”.

The blast caught many by surprise, including Andrew Barnes of eNews who missed the demolition and appeared dumbfounded as he checked his watch live on air. I was sadly unable to get my camera ready in time for a video and therefore only have before and after shots. Never mind, you’ll find videos on YouTube and images all over the web. This one is my favourite (I love the commentary):

My photos, taken from Clyde Pinelands Sports Club, 500m from ground zero:

The cooling towers, with Athlone Power Station’s turbine hall to the left

Thousands turned up, most having walked on what was jokingly dubbed the “fan mile”

Many more viewed from Devil’s Peak, including Rhodes Memorial (my original choice) – after all, it’s not every day you see a building blow up

Now you seem ’em…

…now you don’t

The atmosphere at Clyde Pinelands Sports Club was festive, with thousands coming out to see the landmark towers fall. I made the mistake of assuming that no one will miss them. However, it soon became clear from comments made around me that the demolition polarised Capetonians. What do you think? Certainly, it was weird for me driving on the N2 the other day and seeing a pile of rubble where the “two ladies of Athlone” once stood. Ideas have already been proposed for redevelopment of the site. I’m curious to see how it pans out.

One more thing. Who was the MC on the day? I take it the City spent their entire budget on dynamite, failing to put any cash aside for a decent speaker.

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Around the corner

Dear reader,

Thank you for meeting me on Fascination Street. The 2010 SA Blog Awards is just around the corner. If this blog has informed you, inspired you or entertained you – hell, if it has given you something to read at work on a slow news day – please click the link below to nominate me.

nominate this blog

I started Fascination Street to help build up a writing portfolio and to create an outlet that would motivate me to practise the craft. Since getting a job in publishing, my output here has been admittedly rather staggered. Next month I will be moving to a flat walking distance from work. This will eradicate my commute and give me more time to explore and write for pleasure. I hope to damage my shoes even further and to improve my posting rate.

My next post will more than likely include photos of the demolition of the Athlone cooling towers. If you didn’t know, the “twin towers” are set to fall at noon on Sunday 22 August. This is a significant event and I’m sure no one is going to miss Cape Town’s least favourite landmark. Situated strategically between the Northern and Southern suburbs, and near the city, the land on which the towers currently stand will be freed up for a potentially interesting (hopefully mixed use) development.

See you Sunday at Rhodes Memorial?

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Travel shorts: Remembering Paddy’s Day 2009, Cork

St Patrick’s Day last year, despite my best efforts with the Guinness, will go down as one to remember. On the morning of 17 March, my friend Jay and I met at Earl’s Court Tube Station in London before travelling to Heathrow, where we boarded an Aer Lingus flight to Cork in the Republic of Ireland. The plane was not full of drinking English louts heading to the Old Country, as I had been lead to believe would be the case.

In Cork city centre the novelty comedy shamrock hats were already out in force. Huge crowds and a parade on St Patrick’s Street (Cork’s fantastic pedestrian-friendly main road) greeted us as we disembarked from the airport shuttle at Cork Bus Station and made our way up the steep hill to Sheila’s Hostel, where we would stay for three nights.

St Patrick’s Street – now that’s what I call a high street

South Africans participating in the St Patrick’s Day parade – I felt very welcome in Ireland

Though not the tipple of choice in this part of Ireland, we spent much of the rest of the day in pubs getting reacquainted with Guinness, a stout I had previously avoided. This was part pretension, part misinformation, part brilliant decision. I can attest to the fact that, contrary to the cliché, Guinness does not taste better in Ireland. I now know this hearty “meal in a glass” is great everywhere, at any occasion – it took a trip to the Emerald Isle to make me realise how good it is in the first place. Likewise, a doner kebab in Cork is just as brilliantly disgusting as a kebab in Kent.

The remains of the night before

Our four days were meant to be a relaxing break from work. However, I could not resist strapping on my road worn Converse All Stars and indulging in a spot of urban rambling. Though not the prettiest of cities, Cork sits proudly on an island in the River Lee, upstream of a large natural harbour. A stroll through its compact centre reveals some subtly beautiful architecture and quirky and colourful back streets. Diversity abounds in people and in places, with the Cork dialect mixing freely with accents from all over Europe. As mentioned above, St Patrick’s Street, which was remodelled in 2004, is a fantastic place to shop – an example to all cities.

Pedestrianisation at its best

Residents of Cork are known as the Rebels – I doubt I have encountered a more politically aware city

St Finbarre’s Cathedral was completed in 1879…

…Its gothic spires remind me of dark early 90s television, Twin Peaks perhaps

A certain something is present in the atmosphere of Cork. It’s indescribable but very appealing – so much so that I was loath to leave the city, even for my beloved London. Sitting on a sidewalk outside a pub and later stumbling around downtown Cork and laughing with the locals felt like a particularly good New Year’s celebration.

Incidentally, a visit to the Cork Butter Museum is recommended for shear comedy value, and if you’re tired of Guinness, may I suggest taking a guided tour of the Old Jameson Distillery in nearby Midleton?

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It is here

And I am back. It’s been awhile. With a frantic rush at work to get three publications out during the first week of the World Cup, which we almost spectacularly failed to achieve, I have had very little time to enjoy the tournament, let alone update this blog. To summarise my non-work-related activities since the World Cup began ten days ago: I have

  • ridden a MyCiTi bus for the first time – Inner City 2 from the Civic Centre through Long Street during the opening ceremony on 11 July;
  • watched some football on TV – notably all the games played at Cape Town Stadium;
  • contemplated waiting in line for the Grand Parade Fan Fest – caught a game at Waiting Room instead;
  • taken some time to walk around the city centre and marvel at the miraculously completed legacy projects – Station Square is a favourite;
  • soaked in the gees and joined in on the flag-bearing malarkey – at the height of Bafanamania I had four on the car;
  • hung out with disheartened English football tourists in Long Street – sorry, guys, maybe 2066, eh?
  • and learnt to love the almighty din that emanates from South Africa’s favourite plastic trumpet – the vuvuzela, a chorus of which the press has described as sounding like a swarm of menacing bees.

MyCiTi, in all its ordinariness, is a perfect, functional and long overdue addition to the Mother City. Statistics show that the system is slowly catching on, although I personally have not seen a bus filled anywhere near to capacity, which suggests that MyCiTi’s launch has largely been met with indifference by car-loving Capetonians. This is a shame. The airport shuttle is undoubtedly the flagship service, but for my money (all R8 of it) the inner city loop is the star of the show. I’d have preferred it, however, if the City think tank approached the CBD as a feeder area with potential for a number of separate bus routes passing through its streets. Perhaps this is on the cards – after the World Cup the loop as we know it will be temporarily withdrawn so that buses can be transferred to the West Coast trunk route when it opens near the end of the year.

Station Square is looking fantastic, and with its proximity to Cape Town Station, will more than likely become the most used square in the city. It already ranks highly in my list of best CT public spaces and I look forward to its completion.

In general I’ve been impressed with the way Cape Town looks and is functioning during the World Cup. We have reason to be proud. The city “cleans up good”, as they say. The pro-Bafana vibe has been wonderful as well, which will hopefully go some way to dispelling Cape Town’s unfounded anti-South Africa image.

Cape Town Station and Metrorail remain weak links in the chain of service delivery. The station’s main concourse has vastly improved (understatement of note) and I’m a big fan of the new automated PA system. However, the information display boards on the platforms still often don’t work and the trains are long, long overdue for replacement. The situation has become an embarrassment.

I have one or two developments in the pipeline for this blog. I’m planning on adding a section in which I recommend quality establishments in the City of Cape Town metropole. I’m not yet sure how to go about this. It should be a fully functioning separate page (i.e. not like the “About” page) but not a separate category, as I have used the latter to demarcate cities. If you have a suggestion, please comment.

Look forward to football Tuesday tomorrow, when South Africa comes out in support of Bafana Bafana in their crucial match against France!

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Cape Town IRT brand identity revealed

The name: MYCiTi

The slogan: Siyajikeleza. Laat wiel. Going places.

The logo:

The red ribbon, an abstract interpretation of Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, represents the dedicated IRT bus lanes

This afternoon I braved the sudden onslaught of winter to attend the official unveiling of the Cape Town IRT brand identity on Granger Bay Boulevard in Green Point. The press assembled inside Granger Bay Station, where we were shown the new IRT buses and given a rundown of the branding process.

I will refrain from sharing my impressions, for now, and let the following photos do the talking. Capetonians, what do you think? Does the branding adequately represent our city? Will you use these buses? (Click images to enlarge.)

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Travel shorts: Three days in Roma

In the middle of summer, with temperatures soaring to nearly forty degrees, I walked around this beautiful city for ten hours a day before collapsing each night in a magnificent Mediterranean villa converted into a hostel.

Visiting Rome was a lifelong dream come true. From my early interest in Roman mythology to my high school studies of the Renaissance, Italy, and Rome in particular, has always fascinated me. A late evening walk to the lit up Colosseum with an English girl I’d met at the hostel was a highlight of the trip, as was the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, where I craned my neck upwards to the ceiling for the best part of an hour. The whole experience combined will probably never be topped. The coin I tossed into the Trevi Fountain will hopefully ensure my return to la dolce vita.

A mixed bag of photos:

Looking towards the Colosseum’s arena

Colosseum at night

Rome – a city of domes and pillars

A little out of focus, but I love this picture of Roman life

View of the Pantheon from Piazza della Minerva, with Bernini’s “elephant sculpture” in the foreground

Inside St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

“Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water” – the grave of English Romantic poet John Keats (left), Protestant Cemetery

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Thibault Square – European-style piazza at the heart of central Cape Town

Thibault Square is situated at the Foreshore end of St George’s Mall in Cape Town’s city centre. The square, surrounded by some of the city’s tallest skyscrapers, is a favourite chill out spot of nearby office workers, who flock to its cafés and coffee shops at lunchtime.

I was hugely surprised when visiting Thibault Square for the first time. The Cape Town Partnership, on its website, describes the feel of the space as that of a “definitive downtown public square.” I’m inclined to agree. It’s magnificent – a perfectly formed, paved piazza at the heart of Cape Town’s Central Business District. A stroll through Thibault Square is not unlike strolling through a piece of Europe.

The prominent steel and bronze sculpture near the western exit to Riebeeck Street, is a John Skotnes piece titled Mythological Landscape. This celebration of diversity was erected in the early nineties, an early example of contemporary art commissioned for display in a Cape Town public space.

The sculpture provides a focal point to the square, but it’s the high-rise buildings that dominate. The LG Building (formerly the BP Centre) at 1 Thibault Square is Cape Town’s second tallest skyscraper.

Thibault Square can be found between Hans Strijdom Avenue and Riebeeck Street to the northeast and southwest respectively, and Long Street and Adderley Street / Heerengracht to the northwest and southeast respectively. It’s the perfect place to start a walking tour of the city centre.

Entering the square from St George’s Mall

Looking towards Riebeeck Street

The LG Building at 1 Thibault Square is Cape Town’s second tallest skyscraper

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